Lesson Plan: Overview

But Where Is It On This Modern Map? A problem-solving, mind-boggling experience!

Grade Level: 4th

Exploration got easier

Academic Standards

Standard 4-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the exploration of the New World.

4-1.3 Use a map to identify the routes of various sea and land expeditions to the New World and match these to the territories claimed by different nations—including the Spanish dominance in South America and the French, Dutch, and English exploration in North America—and summarize the discoveries associated with these expeditions.

Social Studies Literacy Elements

P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary sources including maps

Historical Background Notes

See Age of Exploration.


  • Columbus's Four Voyages
  • A large laminated current word map, which includes a grid system of longitude and latitude.
  • Grease pencils or vis-a-vis markers 3-4 colors

Lesson Plans


Where Is It? traces Columbus's voyages, locating them on 21st Century maps. With Where Is It? students think like navigators! Allow 2 class periods to complete the lesson (55 minutes each).

  1. Tell students about the Age of Exploration (see Historical Background Notes). Emphasize advances in navigation technology and Columbus's voyages in particular.
  2. Divide students into pairs.
  3. Distribute materials to each pair, including markers, copies of laminated world maps, and copies of Columbus's Four Voyages. Or, have students use the internet to view Columbus's voyages.
  4. Students examine Columbus's Four Voyages, and then trace Columbus's routes accurately on their laminated world maps using different color markers for each route.
  5. While students are at work the teacher monitors student progress, giving clues to help students transfer Columbus's routes to modern maps.
  6. Student pairs make class presentations of their maps, discussing what they learned about Columbus' voyages. Presentations should discuss Columbus's routes and explain why his voyages were important.

Teacher Reflections

The trick is to locate routes and specific areas on the grid system of the modern map. The first students who discover the grid location concept are usually excited to share the trick. Once this step is successfully discovered the routes are easy to draw and all the students will be very proud of their higher order cartography skills. While student pairs work, problem solving and map skills knowledge will become very evident! Discussion can be intense.

This lesson was more challenging than I anticipated. I teach cartography and map-reading/ analysis daily as my class learns history. Still, it took students more time to complete their assignment than I thought it would. Of course, I gave more time when I saw students tackle this lesson like a Nintendo game!

Giving specific clues was critical. Once a student figured out that Columbus’s routes were contained in a 6-box grid (longitude and latitude), and designated start and stop points for the routes, the lesson was easy. Students were proud of themselves. Every student, because of clues and teamwork, was successful.

Student Assessment

Assessment for Where Is It? is performance-based. As students give their presentations, teachers can rate student performance on standards-based criteria according to the following rubric. Student performance can be rated as Unacceptable, Needs Work, Good, or Excellent. Teacher comments may include rationale for marks and suggestions for improvement.

Examples of Students Work


Denise Hurley
Summerville, South Carolina